Why John Waters Love Christmas

Being a traditionalist, I’m
a rabid sucker for Christmas. In July I’m already worried that there are
only 146 shopping days left. “What are you getting me for Christmas?” I
carp to fellow bathers who haven’t even decided what to do for Labour Day.
As each month follows, I grow more and more obsessed. Around October I
startle complete strangers by bursting into my off-key rendition of “Joy
to the World.” I’m always The Little Drummer Boy for Halloween, a grouchy
one at that, since the inconsiderate stores haven’t even put up their Christmas
decorations yet. November 1 kicks off the jubilee of consumerism, and I’m
so riddled with the holidays season that the mere mention of a stocking
stuffer sexually arouses me.

By December
I’m deep in Xmas psychosis, and only then do I allow myself the luxury
of daydreaming my favourite childhood memory: dashing through the snow,
laughing all the way (ha-ha-ha) to Grandma’s house to find the fully decorated
tree has fallen over and pinned her underneath. My candy-coloured memories
have run through the projector of my mind so many times that they are almost
in 3-D. That awful pause before my parents rushed to free her, my own stunned
silence as I dared not ask if Granny’s gifts to us had been damaged, and
the wondrous, glories sight of the snow semi-crooked tree, with balls broken,
being begrudgingly hoisted back to its proper position of adoration. “O
Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!” I started shrieking at the top of my
lungs in an insane fit of childhood hyperventilation before being silenced
by a glare from my parents that could have stopped a train. This tableau
was never mentioned again, and my family pretended it never happened. But
I remember–boy, do I remember!

If you
don’t have yourself a merry little Christmas, you might as well kill yourself.
Every waking second should be spent in Christmas compulsion: career, love
affairs, marriages, and all the other clutter of daily life must take a
backseat to this holiday of holidays. As December 25 fast approaches, the
anxiety and pressure to experience “happiness” are all part of the ritual.
If you can’t maintain the spirit, you’re either a rotten Communist or badly
in need of a psychiatrist. No wonder you don’t have any friends.

Of course,
You-know-who was supposed to have been born on Christmas, but the real
Holy Trinity is God the Father, the Son and the Holy Santa Claus. You don’t
see fake Josephs and Marys in department stores asking kids what they want,
do you? Face it, mangers are downwardly mobile. True, swiping a sheep or
a wise man for your apartment from a local church is always good for a
cheap thrill and invariably gets you in the paper the next day. And Madalyn
Murray O’Hair (the publicity-crazed atheist saint) always gets a rise by
successfully demanding in court the removal of Nativity scenes from her
state capital on Christmas Eve. But we all know who the real God is, don’t
we? That’s right, the Supreme One, Santa Claus.

But if
you think about it, Santa Claus is directly responsible for heroin addiction.
Innocent children are brainwashed into believing the first big lie their
parents ever tell them, and when the truth finally hits, they never believe
them again. All the stern warnings on the perils of drugs carry the same
credibility as flying reindeer or fat men in your chimney. But I love Santa
Claus anyway: All legends have feet of clay. Besides, he’s a boon to the
unemployed. where else can drunks and fat people get temporary work?

Of course,
to many, Santa is an erotic figure, and fore these lucky revelers, the
Christmas season is a smorgasbord of raw sex. Some people just go for a
man in a uniform. Inventive entrepreneurs should open a leather bar called
the Pole where dominant wrinkle fetishists could dress like old St. Nick
and passive gerontophiliacs could get on all fours and take the whip like
good reindeer. Inhaling poppers and climbing down mock chimneys or opening
sticks ‘n’ stones from the red-felt master could complete the sex-drenched
atmosphere of the first S&M Xmas bar.

You could
even get fancy about it. Why hasn’t Bloomingdale’s or Tiffany’s tried a
fancy Santa. Deathly pale, this never-too-thin-or-too-rich Kris Kringle,
dressed in head-to-toe unstructured, over-size Armani, could pose on a
throne, bored and elegant, and every so often deign to let a rich little
brat sit near his lap before dismissing his wishes with a condescending
“Oh, darling, you don’t really want that, do you?”

has always been the ultimate movie star. Forget White Christmas, It’s a
Wonderful Life and all the other hackneyed trash. Go for the classics:
Silent Night, Bloody Night, Black Christmas or the best seasonal film of
all time Christmas Evil (“He’ll sleigh you”). This true cinematic masterpiece
only played theatrically for a few seconds, but it’s now available on videocassette
and no holiday family get-together is complete without it. I t’s about
a man completely consumed by Christmas. His neurosis first rears its ugly
head as he applies shaving cream to his face, looks in the mirror, hallucinates
a white beard and begins to imagine that he is Santa Claus. He gets a job
in a toy factory, starts snooping and spying on the neighbourhood children
and then rushes home to feverishly make notes in his big red book: “Jimmy
was a good boy today,” or “Peggy was a bad little girl.” He starts cross-dressing
as Claus and lurks around people’s roots ready to take the plunge. Finally,
he actually gets stick in a nearby chimney and awakens the family in his
struggle. Mom and Dad go insane when they find a fat lunatic in their fireplace,
but the kids are wild with glee. Santa has no choice but to kill these
Scroogelike parents with the razor-sharp star decorating the top of their
tree. As he flees a neighbourhood lynch mob, the children come to his rescue
and defy their distraught parents by forming a human ring of protection
around him. Finally, pushed to the limits of Clausmania, he leaps into
his van/sleigh and it takes off flying over the moon as he psychotically
and happily shrieks, “On Dancer! On Prancer! On Donner and Vixen!” I wish
I had kids. I’d make them watch it every year and if they didn’t like it,
they’d be punished.

activities are the foreplay of Christmas. Naturally, Christmas cards are
you first duty and you must send one (with a personal, handwritten message)
to every single person you ever met, no matter how briefly. If this common
courtesy is not reciprocated, never speak to the person again. Keep computerized
records of violators and hold the grudge forever; don’t even attend their

Of course,
you must make your own cards by hand. “I don’t have time” you may whine,
but since the whole purpose of life is Christmas, you’d better make time,
buster. We Christmas zealots are rather demanding when it comes to the
basic requirements of holiday behaviour. “But I can’t think of anything
. . . .” is usually the next excuse, but cut those people off in mid-sentence.
It’s easy to be creative at Christmastime. One year I had a real cute idea
that was easy to design. I bought a cheap generic card of Joseph and Mary
holiday the Baby Jesus and superimposed Charles Manson’s face in the place
of the homeless infant’s. Inside I kept the message “He is born”. Everybody
told me they loved it and some even said they saved it. (For the record,
I’m against donating your cards to nursing homes after Christmas. One would
think that after all these years on earth, senior citizens would have had
a chance to make a friend or two on their own. Don’t do it!) This season,
I’m dying to produce my dream card that I’ve wanted for years. I’ll be
sitting in a Norman Rockwell-style Christmas scene, dressed in robe and
slippers, opening my gifts moments before I notice a freak fire that has
begun in the tissue paper and is licking and spreading to the tree.

Go deeply
in debt over Christmas shopping. Always spend in exact correlation to how
much you like the recipient. Aunt Mary I love about $6.50 worth; Uncle
Jim–well, at least he got his teeth fixed–$8. If your Christmas comes
and goes without declaring bankruptcy, I feel sorry for you–you are a
person with not enough love inside.

You can
never buy too many presents. If you said “Excuse me” to me on a transit
bus, you’re on my list. I wrap gifts for nonexistent people in case somebody
I barely know hands me a present and I’m unprepared to return this gesture.
Even though I’m the type who infuriates others by saying “Oh, I finished
my shopping months ago,” as they frantically try to make last-minute decisions.
I like to go into the stores at the height of Christmasmania. Everyone
is in a horrid mood, and you can see the overburdened, underpaid temporary
help having nervous breakdowns. I always write down their badge numbers
and report them for being grumpy.

If you’re
a criminal, Christmas is an extra-special time for you and your family.
Shoplifting is easier and cars in parking lots are loaded with presents
for your children. Since everyone steals the checks you must leave for
the mailman and garbagemen, I like to leave little novelty items, like
letter bombs. Luckily, I live in a bad neighbourhood, so I don’t have to
worry; the muggers live in my building and go to the rich neighbourhoods
to rob. If you’re quick, you can even steal the muggers’ loot as they unload
the car. Every child in my district seems to get rollerskates for Christmas,
and it’s music to my ears to hear the sudden roar of an approaching gang
on skates, tossing back and forth like a hot potato a purse they’ve just

Claus Is a Black Man” is my favourite Christmas carol, but I also like
The Chipmunks’ Christmas Album, the Barking Dogs’ “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty
the Snowman” by the Ronettes. If you’re so filled with holiday cheer you
can’t stand it, try calling your friends and going caroling yourself. Especially
if you’re old, a drug addict, an alcoholic or obviously homosexual and
have a lot of effeminate friends. Go In packs. If you are black, go to
a prissy white neighbourhood. Ring doorbells, and when the Father Knows
Best-type family answers, start screeching hostilely your favourite carol.
Watch their faces. There’s nothing they can do. It’s not illegal. Maybe
they’ll give you a present.

be prepared if someone asks you what you want for Christmas. Give brand
names, the store that sells the merchandise and, if possible, exact model
numbers so they can’t go wrong. Be the type who’s impossible to buy for
so that they have to get what you want. Here was my 1985 list and I had
checked it twice; the long-out-of-print paperback The Indiana Torture Slaying,
the one-sheet for the film I Hate Your Guts and the subscription to Corrections
Today, the trade paper for prison wardens. If you owe someone money, now
is the time to pay him back, mentioning at the same time a perfect gift
suggestion. If you expect to be receiving a Christmas stocking as a forerunner
to a present, tell the giver right off the bat that you don’t go for razor
blades, deodorants or any of the other common little sundries but anticipate
stocking stuffers that are original, esoteric and perfectly suited to you
and you alone.

It helps
to be a collector, so the precedent is set on what to expect as a gift.
For years friends have treated me to the toy annually selected by the Consumer
Affairs Committee of Americans for Democratic Action as the “worst toy”
to give your child at Christmastime. “Gobbles, the Garbage-Eating Goat”
started my collection. “That crazy eating goat” reads the delightful package,
and in small print, “Contains: One realistic goat with head that goes up
and down. Comes complete with seven pieces of pretend garbage.” This Kenner
Discovery Time toy’s instructions are priceless. “Gobbles loves to eat
garbage when he’s hungry, and he’s ALWAYS hungry. (1) Hold Gobbles mouth
open by the beard. Stuff a piece of pretend garbage straight into his mouth
and (2) pump the tail until the garbage disappears.” It ends with an ominous
warning, “Feed Gobbles only the garbage that comes with the toy,” and in
even smaller print “If you need additional garbage, we will, as a service,
send it to you direct. For 14 pieces of garbage send $1 (check or money
order; sorry, no C.O.D.) to . . . . ” I can’t tell you the hours of fun
I’ve had with Gobbles. Sometimes when I’m very bored, Gobbles and I get
naked and play-play.

the years my collection has grown. There’s “My Puppy Puddles” (“You can
make him drink water, wet in his tray and kiss you”). “Baby Cry and Dry”
about whom the watchdog group warned: “Take her out of the box and she
smells, the odor won’t go away” and “Baby Cry for You.” (“The tears don’t
just drop out, they whoosh out in a three-foot stream.”) Of course, I still
cover the winner of the first annual prize (before my collection began)–a
guillotine for dolls. “Take that, Barbie.” “Off with your head, Betsy Wetsy!”

No matter
what you think of your presents, each must be answered with an immediate
thank you note. Thinking of what to write can be tricky, especially for
distant relatives who send you a card with two crisp $1 bills inside. Be
honest in your reply–“Dear Uncle Walt. Thank you for the $2. I bought
a pack of Kools and then put the change in an especially disgusting peep
show, it was fun!” or “Dear Aunt Lulu, I was thrilled to receive your kind
gift of $5. I immediately bought some PCP with it. Unfortunately, I had
a bad reaction, stabbed my sister, set the house on fire and got taken
to the hospital for the criminally insane. Maybe you could come visit me?
Love, Your nephew.”

I always
have an “office party” every year and invite my old friends, business associates
and any snappy criminals who have been recently paroled. I reinforce all
my chairs, since for some reason many of my guests are very fat, and after
a few splintered antiques, I’ve learned my lesson. I used to throw the
party on Christmas Eve, but so many guests complained of hideous hangovers
I had to move up the date. No more moaning and dry heaving under their
parents’ tree the next day as their brothers and sisters give them dirty
looks for prematurely ejaculating the Christmas spirit.

I usually
invite about a hundred people and the guest know I expect each to get everyone
else a present. Ten thousand gifts! When they’re ripped open at midnight,
you can see Christmas dementia at its height. One thing that pushes me
off the deep end is party crashers. I’ve solved the problem by hiring a
door many who pistol-whips anyone without an invitation, but in the old
days, crashers actually got inside. How rude! At Christmas, of all times,
when visions of sugarplums are dancing orgiastically through my head. One
even brought her mother–how touching. “GET OUT!” I snarled after snatching
out of her hand the bottle of liquor that she falsely assumed would gain
her (and her goddamn mother) entry.

I always
show a film in one room: Wedding Trough (about a man who falls in love
with a pig and then eats it) or Kitten with a Whip (Ann-Margret and John
Forsythe) or What Sex Am I? (a clinical documentary about a sex-change
operation). When it’s finally time for the guests to leave, I blatantly
get in bed and go to sleep; they know they better get home. Santa is on
his way.

day is like an orgasm that never stops. Happiness and good cheer should
be throbbing in your veins. Swilling eggnog, scarfing turkey and wildly
ripping open presents with your family, one must pause to savor the feeling
of inner peace. Once it’s over, you can fall apart.

Now is
the time for suicide if you are so inclined. All sorts of neuroses are
permitted. Depression and feelings that it somehow wasn’t good enough would
be expected. There’s nothing to do! Go to a bad movie? You can’t leave
the house between now and January 1 because it’s unsafe; the national highways
are filled with drunks unwinding and frantically trying to get away from
their families. Returning gifts is not only rude but psychologically dangerous–if
you’re not careful you might glimpse the scum of the earth, cheap bastards
who shop at after-Christmas sales to save a few bucks. What can you look
forward to? January 1, the Feat of the Circumcision, perhaps the most unappetizing
High Holiday in the Catholic Church? Cleaning up that dirty, dead, expensive
Christmas tree that is now an instant out-of-season fire hazard? There
is only one escape from post-Christmas depression–the thought that in
four short weeks it’s time to start all over again. What’re ya gonna get

This essay, “Why I Love Christmas”, was originally published in John Water’s book Crackpot (2003), however is republished here via Arthur Magazine.

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